Scrum makes work a Game.

You know, of course, that Scrum is named for the Scrum formation in rugby.

Generally, Takeuchi and Nonaka were inspired by the ‘rugby’ they saw in several great companies and how they created new product innovation. Sutherland and Schwaber read that article in HBR titled “The New New Product Development Game.” That was a key point to creating Scrum.

Here’s where we are, I think:

“Life is hard, life is confusing and I can never tell if I am making progress. It starts to be no fun, no real people to talk to usefully, no way to see if we are making progress. I am always late and it all seems never-ending!”

If some of your colleagues feel that way sometimes, you can imagine that is: Not Good.

So, Scrum changes it to a ‘game.’ It is still real, not a game in a sense that it is divorced from real life, but it is, as they say, gamified.

We have a two-week Sprint. We have some defined roles. We put a person on a team. We ask the team (not one person) to be successful. We suggest that they self-organize and work together (collaborate).

Allow them to make first downs (as in America football). They get feedback quickly (as in any game) … are they making progress?

Are the measures of progress that we have in Scrum perfect? Actually, I think they are very good, but not perfect. Fairly frequent feedback that is fairly accurate is far better than ‘nothing,’ or a couple of ‘at-a-boys’ that were said half-hardheartedly.

The key thing is we have made things ‘fun,’ in a way.  The feedback is useful for course correction, although perhaps more useful as motivation.


  • we get positive feedback
  • we see other people care
  • we can feel proud of ourselves with small wins
  • we work together, and it no longer feels lonely
  • usually the team starts laughing during the day (It is fun in that way, too.)

Let me remind you how games are seductive. As any behaviorist psychology major can tell you, games give intermittent feedback. To be honest, not always positive feedback, but the positive feedback is intermittent.

This, according to the research, is key to making the game ‘fun.’ Now, when playing the game, participants do not always have a smile on their faces, but they are engaged and typically more focused ‘giving their all’ rather than working ‘in their cube’ (often seen in waterfall).

As with any good game, we need to see frequently and transparently if we are making progress or not.

Managers need to talk about work as a game. A game to win.



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